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Ultra-fast fibre hits one million connections

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 06 August 2020, 12:05 pm

I've grown to take for granted the 100 megabit per second internet connection to my house and home office.

I barely think any more about what life was like in the old world of copper line DSL broadband. Sometimes I ponder upgrading to a 1Gbps (gigabit per second) connection. 

That would have been a ridiculous notion five years ago. But with the Ultra-fast Broadband (UFB) network last week hitting a major milestone of connecting one million households and businesses, it is a realistic prospect for a growing number of Kiwis.

I haven't seen any concrete research yet outlining how this decade-long project to get fast internet access built the length of the country has impacted our productivity. But it is fair to say that the project, significantly funded with taxpayer dollars, saw us leapfrog other countries in broadband rankings.

It wasn't flawlessly designed and there was a lot of pain for consumers, including myself, waiting for UFB to come past our front door. But we avoided the technical and political debacles of Australia's National Broadband Network and ended up with a reliable and scalable network.

Where would we have been through the Covid-19 lockdown without UFB? The network held up remarkably well under record usage. The remote working movement will continue and people will be able to work more flexibly as a result of that investment.

UFB is an enabler of more economic activity in the regions. As a Wellingtonian, the prospect of running a digital business from the Wairarapa is now a realistic option.

Kris Faafoi, the Minister for broadcasting, communications and digital media, said today that uptake on the network is now 58.9 per cent, which "significantly exceeds expectations back when the UFB programme was first developed".

A side-effect of UFB's success is that Chorus is keen now to bid farewell to the copper-line network where UFB is in place. Retail providers, unhappy at the wholesale rates Chorus charges for access to UFB are increasingly looking to provide voice and broadband over their own mobile networks instead.

As of June 30, UFB was available to 83 per cent of New Zealand's population. A large number of copper-line broadband users could easily shift to UFB. That's an opportunity Sky TV identified earlier in the year when it announced its move into selling broadband. It wants to target those still sitting on copper by bundling broadband and pay-TV services.

As Faafoi noted today, the UFB market is highly competitive, with more than 90 retailers offering services over it.

"This competitive environment, along with other design features, means the UFB network is very accessible and plans are available at prices often the same or cheaper than copper-based broadband plans," he said. 

"These factors, along with the dedicated bandwidth in the network, mean it is well-positioned to continue this strong uptake trend, and more New Zealanders can get the benefit of ultra-fast broadband."



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